Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Volunteering with seniors can be fun


August 10, 2018

Jacob Cohen enjoys leading a game of Lotto for residents of Savannah Court as a Jewish Pavilion volunteer

Sometimes all it takes is some friendly encouragement and a little banter to add spark to a game that may otherwise seem tame. At least, that was Jacob Cohen's experience on a recent Monday when he took over as the "caller" for a game of Lotto at the Savannah Court Assisted Living Community in Maitland.

Cohen, 21, and a senior in the bachelor's in nursing program at Florida Gulf Coast University, grew up in Orlando and is spending part of his summer volunteering for The Jewish Pavilion. In addition to helping in the Pavilion's offices, he is also assisting with some of its programs at area senior living facilities and is making individual visits to some of the residents.

At Savannah Court, the game of Lotto is played with a staff member pulling cards the size of small sign boards from a deck, calling out the card, and holding it up for residents to see. Residents are dealt extra large cards, and when one of their cards matches the card called, they hold it out for another staff member to take.

The first player to hand over his or her last card wins a goodie bag filled with snacks and candies, and the game continues until two other players have handed over a last card and won their goodie bags. Then the cards are collected, shuffled and dealt again and the game begins anew.

After helping resident Mary Lou with her cards and seeing how the game is played, Cohen took over as caller, and that's when the game got more lively. Cohen assumed a comfortable patter-part auctioneer, part play-by-play sportscaster-as he announced the cards, and he bantered with the residents as they checked their hands. As the crowd warmed up, Cohen began remembering and calling them by their names. Soon they were chuckling and making quips themselves.

"Nice job, Jacob," called out one of the residents in a friendly way after the first round was finished.

As Cohen learned in his nursing studies, "the tone of your voice and facial expressions change how you're perceived," he said. In the hospital settings where Cohen has done a number of clinical rotations, adopting an upbeat and engaged demeanor can help patients feel that their nurse cares about them, contributing to their sense of well-being.

Cohen applied a similar philosophy to his participation in Lotto: "If you don't make it fun, they're not going to have fun," he said.

Having done a rotation in gerontology at a skilled nursing facility as part of his training, Cohen knew it would be rewarding to work with elders, and that's why he sought out The Jewish Pavilion to satisfy his degree requirement for 80 hours of volunteering. "I'm here because I like it. I have to volunteer, but I don't have to do this," Cohen said, adding, "I thought it was kind of fun up there" calling the game.

"We always have work at The Jewish Pavilion," said Nancy Ludin, the Pavilion's executive director. "Any teen or college student who wants to volunteer, we'll find something for them to do. Some of it might be meaningful work, and some of it might be more boring office work, but all of it will benefit the community."

Cohen has been helping to update the addresses in the distribution list for the Pavilion's monthly emails, a sizable task that must be accomplished each year. He will also help confirm the contact info in the Pavilion's database before he returns to college for his final semester.

He's good at such detail work, but it's the individual connections with seniors that Cohen looks forward to. One of the seniors Cohen is visiting individually is Murray, a sociable resident of Enlivant Wayman Place in Longwood. "We go out of our way to find the right fit for our young volunteers to visit," noted Ludin.

Cohen said he had especially enjoyed assisting with a Shabbat program at Brookdale Island Lake. As a busy student in Fort Myers, Fla., it has been some time since he's had the opportunity to connect with other Jews at a Shabbat service.

"It's kind of like coming home," Cohen said. "And it's like being with my grandparents again. It feels good."

The Jewish Pavilion welcomes student volunteers throughout the year-it's a great way to earn community service credit while supporting a vital service in Orlando's Jewish community. To learn more, go to JewishPavilion.org or call 407-678-9363.


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